It’s a rare occasion to name two newly introduced sailboats from two so starkly different yards all in the same breath, but with the Saphire 27 from Switzerland and the Seascape 27 from Slovenia, two examples of an entirely new generation of sport-boat were introduced more or less simultaneously in the fall of 2012. They’re not strict one-design types, but very flexible and versatile crossover speedsters, strongly focused on performance and sailing fun, but also on cruising ability and a wide range of different uses.
The type of sport boat that offers creature comfort and racing pedigree has been around for a while. Take for example the venerable X-79 from Denmark. But now this genre is getting a boost with new models. Why? Twenty six feet of hull length is a handy format, large enough to have safety features for the family, and the possibility of spending the night on board. Conversely, this type if boat is compact enough to make handling under sail or in port easy, even for a small crew or a single-hander. The sails can be operated with modest muscle-power and loads remain moderate. And 26′ boats with a decent length-to-beam ratio that results in an overall beam of under 8’6″ can still be trailered without a special permit or a very large tow vehicle.
Rooted in sports
Both creators of these competing vessels have a strong racing background. At Saphire it’s the Swiss Michael Tobler, a successful A-Cat sailor, while the Seascape’s Andraz Mihelin and Kristian Hajnsek come from the Mini 6.50 scene with plenty of offshore experience. Corresponding to the sporty roots of their originators, concept and construction of the two vessels are aiming at similar ends—but by different means.
In light air, advantage Saphire 27
The obvious question is, which boat offers the better performance under which circumstances? To answer it, we took both to Lake Garda for comparison testing hoping for conditions that would offer a wide variety of wind speeds, which alas did not come to pass. Initially at a whisper of a breeze around 5 knots, the Saphire 27 had the nose out in front, which wasn’t surprising given her design. With a slimmer and downright thin waterline towards the stern, the Swiss boat made good use of the smaller wetted surface area and sailed faster and a tick higher than the Seascape. Especially important on the Saphire is the longitudinal trim; the crew has to move far forward to lift the stern out of the water, thus further reducing wetted surface.
With her wide stern, the Seascape 27 takes it on the chin in light air. Heel is more important than longitudinal trim. The Slovenian boat has to – and wants to – be sailed on the chine to get the stern out of the water. The differences in light air, however, were fairly small, and it takes longer hitches to arrive at conclusive results. In addition, Seascape’s test boat was losing ground because of upwind sails which were past their prime.
Regarding maneuverability, the Saphire with her single rudder also held an advantage over the Seascape. The Swiss boat gets through the tacks quicker and accelerates better afterwards, while the twin rudders of the Seascape slow the boat down during turns. On the other hand, the Seascape’s twin rudders are pre-balanced, so there is hardly any feedback on the tiller. And for a good reason: In single- or double-handed operation, much of the steering will be done by autopilot, which necessitates a neutral helm. But if steered by hand, it is a bit more challenging for the helmsperson to keep the boat in the groove.
More breeze, advantage Seascape 27
In the afternoon a light thermal breeze of 12 to 15 knots developed, which made for better, more balanced test conditions. Sailing upwind in more pressure, there is no discernible difference in the performance potential. Speed and pointing ability are identical and under gennaker the two don’t give an inch to each other. But the more breeze, the better the Seascape seems to get going.
Going by the theoretical ORC racing handicap that was calculated from the technical specifications, the Saphire (GPH 605.8) should be slightly faster across all conditions than the Seascape (GPH 632.4).
At 15 knots of wind the Saphire reaches the limit under full canvas. In more breeze she’ll need a reef. However, on the Seascape you’d switch from the genoa to the set-back stays’l jib. The smaller headsail on a roller furler is a practical option for offshore sailing in big winds and waves. It makes perfect sense, because at 21 square meters the standard genoa of the Seascape is much larger than the headsail of the Saphire, at 15 square meters. The reason for this difference is the mast, positioned much farther aft on the Seascape.
Clever and smart
The Saphire’s structured and clean cockpit is appealing. However, sailors have to make due with only on pair of winches. If necessary, the jib sheet has to be cleated at the turning block before any other lines can be tightened with the help of the drums.
The layout of the Seascape is not as clear, with many lines of the same color and more opportunities to trim the sails, i.e. with the complicated adjustments of the jib leads. But with four available winches, the cockpit is set up well for trimming and maneuvering.
As for the installation of an auxiliary engine, both boats offer similar solution with outboard wells under the cockpit floors. The mechanics of it are well thought out on the Seascape 27, so the motor can be deployed with little fuss or effort to be ready for action. The system on the Saphire is a bit more complicated to handle and requires more energy to operate, but both solutions work flawlessly. Both manufacturers offer options with gasoline or electric outboard motors.
The location-independent use of the boat was an important factor for Michael Tobler from Saphire. With a lifting keel the boat should be very easy to trailer and suitable for ramp launching. Of course, it is also possible to use a hoist with belts or a bridle. On the downside, lifting the keel is rather elaborate.
The Seascape is as easy to trailer because of its weight and dimensions, but because of her swing keel the boat sits a bit higher on the trailer. Ramp launching is limited; hence the better solution for the Slovenian boat is using a hoist. The hydraulic swing keel can be pumped up in just about one minute, with little effort.
Divided or open
Austerity and functionality define the ambiance below deck on both boats, with not a shred of wooden decor. In this aspect, the two rivals match each other. Comparing the layouts, there still are some distinct differences, however. On the Seascape 27 the interior in the forecabin is separated with two dividers, which is rather unusual for a boat this size. Between saloon and bow there is another cell, which can be used as a head, a perfect solution for family cruising. Two folding doors separate both areas cleanly.
The interior of the Saphire 27, on the other hand, is completely open. There are no dividers for the forecabin; instead there are massive structures on both sides for stowing, and a little kitchenette.
The Seascape 27 sleeps four or even six if necessary, in sufficient comfort in the forecabin and on the saloon berths, and within limits, also on the two quarter berths aft. On the Saphire 27 a good night’s rest is only possible on the two saloon berths. The two pipe berths in the fore cabin offer only limited comforts. The build quality and the finish on both boats are of comparable quality. Hull and deck are made of fiberglass sandwich with foam core and vinylester resins, employing the weight-saving vacuum-injection method. As noted during the individual test, the interior surfaces on the Saphire weren’t perfect yet. The yard says they will correct that for the serial production. The Seascape, on the other hand, was spotless.
There is no clear winner in the battle of the Saphire 27 vs. the Seascape 27; both boats show strengths and weaknesses under different circumstances. The Saphire 27 is a capable boat for inland venues on lakes with advantages in light air. Its focus lies somewhere between sportboat and daysailer with limited cruising comforts. In addition, the Swiss Boat is easy to launch and trailer.
|Sail Area||473 sq. ft.|
|Sail Area||495 sq. st.|
The Seascape 27, on the other hand, is a racer designed for harsher ocean duty. With her wide stern and twin rudders she likes wind, waves and longer beats. In addition, the Slovenian boat surprises with amazing livability, and is the more exciting boat for coastal sailing thanks to her swing keel.
Editor’s note: The Saphire 27 won the category “Special Yacht” at the European Yacht of the Year Award 2014.